Some like it hot: Moth and butterfly species respond differently to climate change

This article first appeared on Phys.org New research led by ecologists at the University of York shows that certain species of moths and butterflies are becoming more common, and others rarer, as species differ in how they respond to climate change.

Collaborating with the Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the charity Butterfly Conservation, the University of Reading and Rothamsted Research, scientists analysed how the abundance and distribution of 155 species of British butterflies and moths have changed since the 1970s.

Using data collected by thousands of volunteers through 'citizen science' schemes, responses to recent climate change were seen to vary greatly from species to species.

Published in Science Advances, this research shows variation among species is attributed to differing sensitivity to climate change, and also because species vary in how much the climate has changed for them (their 'exposure'). Sensitivity is a measure of how much species' numbers change as a result of year­to­year changes in the weather ­ each species is sensitive to different aspects of the climate, such as winter temperature or summer rainfall. Variation in how much the climate they are sensitive to has changed for them ­ their 'exposure' ­ is also a contributing factor in their varied responses.

Results show that species such as the treble brown spot moth (Idaea trigeminata) and the speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) which are sensitive to climate, and for which the climate has improved the most, have experienced the greatest increases in their distribution size and abundance.

Conversely, other species, such as the grizzled skipper butterfly (Pyrgus malvae), the September thorn moth (Ennomos erosaria) and the mouse moth (Amphipyra tragopoginis), have experienced deteriorating climates resulting in declines in abundance and distribution size...